Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Observatory:We can’t leave nature alone. We are a part of it, as much as any other animal.

drawing by marguerita
....we may actually face the kind of dilemma I called attention to in my article, in which there is a conflict between the value of preserving existing species and the value of preventing suffering and early death for an enormously large number of animals.

“Leave nature alone; the course of events in the natural world will go better without human intervention.”

In fact we can’t leave nature alone.

We are a part of it, as much as any other animal. More importantly, we can’t help but have a massive and pervasive impact on the natural world given our own numbers. Agricultural practices necessary for our survival constitute a continuing invasion and occupation of lands previously inhabited by others.

One explicit suggestion of my article was that it would be better to try to control our impact on the natural world in a purposeful way, guided by intelligence and moral values, including the value of diminishing suffering, rather than to continue to allow our effects on the natural world, including the extinction of species, to be determined by blind inadvertence — as, for example, in the case of the many extinctions of animal species that will be caused by global climate change.

2. Should human beings be the first to go?

3. What about the suffering of plants?

4. What about bacteria, viruses, and insects?

JEFF MCMAHAN is professor of philosophy at Rutgers University and a visiting research collaborator at the Center for Human Values at Princeton University. He is the author of many works on ethics and political philosophy, including “The Ethics of Killing: Problems at the Margins of Life” and “Killing in War.


PS: Apropos


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